SCOURGING
CRUCIFIXION
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Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, only women, Roman senators and soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt.  The usual instrument was a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several singe or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals (Fig. 2).  Occasionally, staves also were used.  For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post (Fig. 2).  The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers (lictors) or by one who alternated positions.  The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictors and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.  After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim.

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Fig. 2.  Scourging.  Short whip (Flagrum) with lead balls and sheep bones tied into leather thongs.  Center left; naked victim tied to a flogging post.  Deep stripe like lacerations were usually associated with considerable blood loss.  Center right, view from above, showing position of lictors.  Right, inferomedial direction of wounds (in′fərōmē′dēəl] Etymology: L, inferus, lower, medius, middle pertaining to a location situated below and toward the center. Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. 2009, Elsevier..

As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and Subcutaneous tissues.  Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.   Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock.  The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.

 

At the Praetorium, Jesus was severely whipped. (Although the severity of the scourging is not discussed in the four gospel accounts, it is implied in one of the Epistles [1 Peter 2:24].  A detailed word study of the ancient Greek text for this verse indicates that the scourging of Jesus was particularly harsh.  It is not known whether the number of lashes was limited to 39, in accordance with Jewish law. The Roman soldiers, amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, began to mock him by placing a robe on his shoulders, a crown of thorns on his head, and a wooden staff as a scepter in his right hand. Next, they spat on Jesus and struck him on the head with the wooden staff. Moreover, when the soldiers tore the robe from Jesus' back, they probably reopened the scourging wounds. The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus' physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.

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Fig 3. Cross and Titulus.  Left, victim carrying crossbar (patibulum) to site of upright post (stipes).  Center, low Tau Cross (Crux Commissa), commonly used by Romans at the time of Christ.  Upper right, Rendition of Jesus' Titulus with name and crime Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.  Lower right, possible methods for attaching tittles to Tau Cross (left) and Latin Cross (right).

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It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb. (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried (Fig 3). The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim's neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms. then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man's name and crime were displayed (Fig 3). Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tendon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes.  To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

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